It starts with a conversation
Most of us have had a casual conversation with our loved ones about which health care decisions to make if we are no longer able to make our own. Some of us have made it more formal by putting it in writing.
Statistics show that only about 10% of Americans die suddenly. The remaining 90% of deaths are characterized by a protracted life-threatening illness. The odds are that most us will be faced with a difficult and emotional decision about end-of-life care. It is at this point that families turn to hospice for assistance. Hospice is truly the gold standard of healthcare when it comes to caring for a person at end-of-life.
What is hospice? Americans have little perception of what hospice is--unless they have experienced it with a family member or friend. Those of us who work in the field find ourselves defining what hospice isn’t more often than describing what it is. It is not just for the elderly.
The concept of hospice has been around for a long time. It wasn’t until the early 1980s when the Hospice Medicare Benefit was established that it really started to grow. Previously, hospice had focused only on patients suffering from cancer and services were provided by volunteers. Today, paid caregivers and professional staff care for patients with many end-stage diseases. Cancer patients only represent about 38% of those cared for by hospice.
Unfortunately, life-threatening diseases strike people of all ages. The Affordable Care Act allows Medicaid to pay for children with a serious illness to receive both aggressive care and hospice supportive services. It’s not just for the final days of a person’s life.
With pain and symptoms controlled, patients can enjoy a quality of life that will allow them to engage in activities important to them. It’s not about giving up hope. Choosing hospice isn’t giving up or a failure to “beat” the disease. It is all about shifting the focus away from aggressive strategies to cure the disease and toward comfort and quality of life.
How does hospice work? Hospice focuses on the patient’s quality of life along with pain management as its core objective. In addition, family education and guidance mean support before, during and after death for the loved ones and caregivers. Patients and family members are often unaware that Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans cover all the expenses associated with hospice care. This includes the caregiving staff--nurses, social workers, home health aides, and chaplains. In addition, supplies, equipment and medications related to their illness are covered.
Getting started The best time to plan for end-of-life care is when we are healthy. We must talk to our family about how we would like to be cared for should we become unable to make our own decisions. Then take the next step and put it on paper in the form of an advance directive, a living will or healthcare proxy.
Yes, talking about our death with those we are close to is uncomfortable. But, not talking and planning places an emotional burden on them. Have the conversation - give your loved peace of mind.
By Jim Petrus